Mick Mulvaney is developing a dangerous habit of telling the truth.

Or, to be more specific, the acting White House chief of staff is developing a habit of admitting truths that everyone knows, but that Republicans lie about so relentlessly they convince many people to treat the lie as though it were a reasonable argument to make.

First Mulvaney admitted that President Trump did indeed demand a quid pro quo from Ukraine (“Get over it”), and now he’s gone and given up the GOP’s game on deficits, in a speech in England he apparently thought no one back home would hear about:

“My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House. The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president. Then Donald Trump became president, and we’re a lot less interested as a party,” Mulvaney said at the Oxford Union to a group of several hundred people.
Mulvaney, who ran the Office of Management and Budget before taking the acting chief of staff role, said he found the growing deficit — which reached almost $1 trillion in 2019, soaring in the Trump era – “extraordinarily disturbing” but that neither party, nor voters, cared much about it. Republicans, he said, were “evolving” since Trump became president.

It’s inaccurate to say they’re “evolving,” because that suggests a gradual change over time. What Republicans actually undertook was an instantaneous transformation, one they’ve performed many times over the last few decades. The moment a Democrat is inaugurated, they begin wailing about how deficits are going to destroy everything we hold dear so we must impose brutal austerity policies; then, when a Republican takes office, they advocate tax cuts and spending increases (except on programs they don’t like, such as Medicaid) to boost the economy.

If nothing else, Mulvaney’s candor is refreshing. But it reminds us of something absolutely vital: When the next Democratic president does take office and Republicans start talking about the deficit again, it’s critical that we — the media, the Washington establishment, the average voter — not fall for their scam. Not for a second.

That’s because this is more than just hypocrisy. Republican deficit fear-mongering is a very intentional strategy to sabotage the economy when there’s a Democratic president. They did it to Barack Obama, and they’re going to do it to the next Democrat in the White House.

Unfortunately, all too often Democrats have accepted the argument that deficits are a terrible threat, so they end up giving in to at least some of the Republican demands to cut spending. It’s what gets you things like the “sequester,” a program of spending cuts that held back the recovery from the Great Recession.

The way Republicans act when they have power shows what they actually believe about fiscal policy, even though it’s far different from what they say. Their stated position is that the government’s spending decisions don’t affect the economy at all; only taxes matter. If you give a tax cut to the wealthy, they say, the inevitable result is an explosion of economic growth, which in short order will fill tax coffers to bursting. Conversely, if you raise taxes on the wealthy, the result will be economic catastrophe. (That these hypotheses are proven wrong again and again does not deter them.)

At the same time, they reject the idea that taking money out of the economy by slashing government spending will have any impact at all, or that stimulating the economy with increased spending could ever work. As far as they’ll admit, it’s only the tenderness with which we treat the rich that has any effect at all.

That’s what they say, but not what they do. While they certainly try to cut safety-net programs, overall they increase spending, their anti-government rhetoric notwithstanding — when there’s a Republican in office. Spending has gone up every year Trump has been president, just as it went up every year George W. Bush was in office. The only years federal spending has declined in recent history were under Obama.

But Republicans can continue playing this game because when they lie about their beliefs on the deficit, people take them seriously. In fact, this lie ought to be treated with the same contempt and instant refutation as when, say, Trump claims he had the biggest inaugural crowd in history.

Only if everyone starts dismissing Republicans’ bogus claims about the deficit out of hand can we avoid being trapped by them, so that when they demand spending cuts of the next Democratic president, she or he doesn’t enter into negotiations over how deep the cuts will be, but says simply, “No. I won’t let you sabotage the country’s economy. You’re no longer going to be permitted to sell that con.”

So let’s thank Mick Mulvaney for once again saying what we all know is true. Now let’s all stop pretending.

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